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Greg Bird can still be The Word

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Sure, the last year and a half has been a disappointment, but that doesn’t mean we should write Bird off just yet.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at New York Yankees
His teammates are excited by him, we should be too.
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Though it may seem like that way, it wasn’t that long ago when Greg Bird was winning over Yankees fans after being called up in the middle of the 2015 season. In 46 games Bird hit .261/.343/.529 with 11 home runs, good for a 139 wRC+. Bird was the first sign that the future was arriving. At the very least, the future at first base was clear.

We’ve come a long way since then. Bird missed the entire 2016 season with a shoulder injury, but came back to hit .215/.346/.354 in the Arizona Fall League. It wasn’t much but the most important thing was that he came out of it healthy and his high OBP showed that he was still seeing the ball well.

Then came spring training. In 26 spring games, Bird hit .451/.556/1.098 with eight home runs. His swing was back. During the team’s final Grapefruit League game in Clearwater, though, Bird fouled a ball off his ankle that pretty much doomed him to Yankee fans, though they didn’t know it yet. No one did.

For the first month of the season, he was with the club playing and struggling. Assuming it was just a slump, he kept getting chances to break out of it but something was always off. Everyone knew he was better than what he was showing. They eventually discovered the bone bruise and Bird was ultimately put on the disabled list.

The “injury-prone” labels began. He missed more time than was initially expected and watching Chris Carter hack away at everything was infuriating. Bird eventually began a rehab assignment but struggled once he got to Triple-A. Turns out he still wasn’t right.

The team shut him down and sent him to see a specialist. The doctor revealed to him that his bone bruise had healed but he still had inflammation. So Bird was given a cortisone shot with the hopes that it would help. That brings us to now.

A few days ago, Bird said that he resumed baseball activities. Joe Girardi indicated that it shouldn’t be long before he can resume his rehab assignment. If all goes well, it shouldn’t be long before Bird soars in the Bronx again.

Unfortunately some fans have already written him off. As soon as word got out about Bird’s setback, the Nick Johnson comparisons began. They probably began as soon as his shoulder injury was made public, and probably came back when they put him on the disabled list for his ankle.

It’s not just Yankee fans or even baseball fans, it’s sports fans. They love comparisons. “Mike Trout is Mickey Mantle.” “Andrew Luck is the next Peyton Manning.” We saw it earlier in the year when Aaron Judge was called the second coming of Derek Jeter. It’s not always positive.

Just last year, warnings were being issued not to get too excited about Gary Sanchez because “he could be the next Kevin Mass.” Even the majesty that is Judge isn’t safe from the Maas comparisons. And if it isn’t proclaiming that Player X is the next Player Y, then it’s wondering who will be the next Player Y.

“Who’s going to be the next Michael Jordan?” There’s always someone or something to refer back to. Now I know I can’t stop this obsession, I won’t even stop the Bird is the next Johnson comparisons, but they should. Maybe Bird is the second coming of Johnson, but maybe he’s not. We don’t know that yet.

Nick Johnson had 10 years to become Nick Johnson, Greg Bird’s barely had two. The only reason people are quick to this comparison is so if it does become true, they can do the “I told you so” dance. Give him some time, he’s still only 24.

Sure there’s reason to be wary and cautious, but there’s no need to write him off yet. A foul ball causing a bone bruise isn’t new. It’s a freak injury, these things happen. It’s just unfortunate that injuries have happened back-to-back for him.

It was just two years ago that Brian Cashman referred to Bird as the best hitter in the system. That was before the Kraken was released and made us all Gary. It was before we all rose for Judge. But just because those two have come and stolen our hearts doesn’t mean there isn’t room for The Word as well.

That doesn’t mean all that promise is gone though. He still has a very high ceiling, and could still end up as the best hitter of the three. He’s on his way back right now, and Yankee fans should be excited about his return. Greg Bird can still be The Word.

*Season statistics provided courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs and MLB.com.